Sundance Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Gets Detestable In Don Jon's Addiction
An affable and endearing presence in everything from (500) Days of Summer to The Dark Knight Rises, Joseph Gordon-Levitt naturally wanted to stretch a little bit for his directorial debut, Don Jon's Addiction. And believe it or not, he's actually pretty convincing as a Jersey guido straight off Jersey Shore, wearing a sleeveless vest to the club, slicking his hair back with sticky gel, rating the women he sees on a scale of 1 to 10 and maintaining his apartment and appearance with that familiar "gym, tanning, laundry" routine. Jon-- called "Don Jon" by his friends for obvious reasons-- is also addicted to pornography, telling the audience frequently and in great detail why the shiny silicone images on his computer screen is better than the real thing.
From the very beginning, with its rhythmic montages of Jon's daily routine frenetically intercut with porn clips, Don Jon's Addiction is just as flashy and fake as the porn videos that Jon loves. That puts the entire film troublingly close to its slimy main character, pumping out the same stylized visuals even as Jon is supposedly out there learning that reality can be better. Levitt commits well to the character, and Scarlett Johansson is hilarious and grounded as the gum-chewing Jersey girl who inspires him to change his ways, but everything surrounding them is fake fake fake-- fake Jersey setting, fake rom-coms to see at the multiplex, and fake insights about the differences between men and women, and how we're all manipulated by stories and images we see onscreen.
Why set a story in weird, fascinating New Jersey if you're only going to take its stereotypes-- the Catholicism, the Sunday dinners with the family, the white tanktops-- and ignore the nuance? Why cast Tony Danza and Scarlett Johansson and let them build genuine characters, only to belittle them by making fun of them for not knowing what TiVo and Swiffers are? Why jump so fully in bed with a character as deluded and embarrassing as Jon, only to redeem him in the easiest and most predictable way possible? And I can't even begin on Julianne Moore, playing a night school classmate of Jon's who's just an annoying older lady with no purpose to him because he doesn't want to fuck her-- until it turns out he does, and only then does she have any value at all.
There are parts of the script that make it clear Gordon-Levitt aims to question much of the cultural misogyny, like when Danza, as Jon's father, recalls meeting his mother, and the camera tracks in as he repeats the words "she's mine." Jon refers to Johansson's character Barbara as "the prettiest thing I've even seen" for it to be unintentional, and I suppose the idea behind him hooking up with Moore's character is to prove that women don't just have to be the youngest and hottest to be worthy-- what an insight! But the movie doesn't do nearly enough to walk away from Jon's rampant misogyny, suggesting that the only thing he needs to do to enjoy real sex is to look a woman in the eyes-- not value her pleasure or wisdom or personality. And the film's basic assumption that rom-coms are to women what porn is to men-- and that no woman could ever possibly enjoy porn-- is off-base and galling, another way to set Don Jon in a world that doesn't even remotely resemble our own.
Given the way the audience responded to Don Jon's Addiction at today's early morning screening, I sincerely hope it becomes one of those Sundance phenomenons that falls apart at sea level. Yes, I know we all like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and want him to succeed, and in fact he shows some sharp skills behind the camera here, cutting scenes fast like early David Fincher and landing a few jokes exceptionally well. But this first-time effort is simultaneously banal and offensive, and we should all do him the favor of letting him move on quickly to a story that's actually worth telling.
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